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"MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE"
(2016) (Griffin Gluck, Lauren Graham) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: The new kid at a middle school decides to take on the dictator-like principal and his ultra-strict, sometimes ridiculous, and far too numerous rules.
PLOT:
Rafe Khatchadorian (GRIFFIN GLUCK) is the new transfer student at Hills Village Middle School. A troubled kid who's been kicked out of two other schools in the past two semesters, Rafe is pretty much facing his last chance, something not lost on his single mom, Jules (LAUREN GRAHAM), or younger sister, Georgia (ALEXA NISENSON). But it wouldn't bother Jules' self-centered and obnoxious boyfriend, Carl (ROB RIGGLE), who can't stand either kid anyway.

Things aren't much better at the new school, however, what with the resident bully, Miller (JACOB HOPKINS), immediately picking on Rafe, while Principal Dwight (ANDY DALY) and Vice-Principal Stricker (RETTA) are strict enforcers of their ultra-strict, sometimes ridiculous, and far too numerous rules.

Fortunately, Rafe has a good teacher in the form of Mr. Teller (ADAM PALLY), draws the eye of AV club president Jeanne (ISABELA AMARA), and has an ally in his best friend, Leo (THOMAS BARBUSCA). It's the latter who convinces Rafe that they should set out to break as many of the school's ridiculous rules as they can, especially after Principal Dwight destroys Rafe's prized sketch book and the various cartoon characters he's created in that.

When the principal learns that someone is bucking his rules, he sets out to find and stop whoever that might be, all while Rafe's actions put him at risk of being shipped off to military school by Carl who's now engaged to Jules.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
As every passing year means I'm that much further away from my early school days, more and more memories and recollections continue to retreat into the far reaches of my mind. That's especially true of teachers who didn't make much of an impression on me, and particularly in regards to my various principals.

All I recall about my elementary school one was that I was scared of the man, although I don't know why (outside of him being an authority figure and maybe some rumors about what happened if you were dumb or unfortunate enough to be sent to his office). I have no memory whatsoever about whoever was in charge of my middle school, while there are only scant inklings of the one (or maybe ones) in high school.

Maybe that's why I don't recall many in movies either. There have been plenty over the years in various genres, but until I did a Google search for "high school principals in movies" I couldn't really remember that many of them. That is, of course, except for Mr. Rooney in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

In that now classic comedy, Jeffrey Jones portrayed the buffoonish, power-obsessed Edward R. Rooney, the principal at the suburban Chicago high school where the title character decided to be truant in order to help his friend experience the joys of living. The fun was in watching Ferris avoid being caught by him, thus making Rooney a near-perfect comedic academic antagonist.

I have no idea if that character somehow influenced author James Patterson (best known for his Alex Cross crime novels) in his writing of his 2011 novel "Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life." But one can see the definite connection between Jones' portrayal of that school figure and the related character in this week's movie adaptation of Patterson's work that arrives with the same name. In that, Andy Daly plays Principal Dwight, the strict principal of Hills Village Middle School who has everyone adhere to his myriad of governing and operational rules.

His foil, unlike Mr. Bueller, pretty much just wants to keep to himself. But it's unclear why young Rafe Khatchadorian (Griffin Gluck) has been kicked out of two other schools over the past two semesters. His mom (Lauren Graham) is concerned, as is the boy's younger, precocious sister (Alexa Nisenson), that if he gets kicked out one more time, he might not be accepted anywhere else beyond a military school. And that would suit his mom's self-centered blowhard of a boyfriend -- played by Rob Riggle in a one-dimensional fashion that's more annoying than funny -- just fine as doesn't like either kid.

We eventually learn that Rafe's stated (but never really seen) bad behavior stems from the cancer death of his younger brother in the past. He escapes into his sketchbook where he draws any number of characters, many of which come to life in little, standalone animated vignettes that represent his various flights of fancy. But when one of those that features Principal Dwight ends up in that man's possession, the sketchbook and the characters inside that meet their demise in a bucket of acid (that, you know, every high school has in the stockroom).

Spurred on by his instigator friend (Thomas Barbusca), Rafe decides to get even by breaking as many of the school's rules as he can before the big day of an important standardized test arrives. Along the way, Rafe finds himself attracted to a classmate (Isabela Amara), gets bullied by the resident jerky boy (Jacob Hopkins) and gets words of encouragement from one teacher (Adam Pally) who has similar views on the strict rules.

The various pranks that then ensue are nothing that remarkable from a creative, imaginative or humorous standpoint, although kids of the same age might find some escapist joy in watching the kid best the adult. That's mixed in with more serious matters regarding that now-dead brother, as well as talk that Rafe might indeed be shipped off to a school to instill some discipline in him. Those two disparate elements -- as orchestrated by director Steve Carr who works from Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer and Kara Holden's adaptation of Patterson's work -- don't always mesh as seamlessly as one might like.

While there's nothing otherwise really wrong with this offering, and the flick could find some supporters in its target demographic, the overall effort is just as forgettable as my past school principals. Which is unlike "Ferris Bueller" where I can still recall the various anti-authoritarian antics (and the more serious undertones nicely mixed in) scattered throughout that far better film. "Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life" rates as just a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed October 5, 2016 / Posted October 7, 2016


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